In case you missed it, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem has turned to the politically conservative website Townhall to defend Donald Trump and criticize Mark Galli’s Christianity Today editorial.
Galli gives six reasons why Trump should be removed, either by impeachment or at the next election: (1) He attempted to “coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of his political opponents,” and this was “a violation of the Constitution.” (2) This action was also “profoundly immoral.” (3) “He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals.” (4) He has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women,” and he “remains proud” about these things. (5) His Twitter feed contains a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and this makes it “a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” Finally, (6) although the president has admittedly done some good things, “none of the president’s positives” can outweigh his “grossly immoral character.” Later he says that Trump has a “bent and broken character” and is guilty of “gross immorality and ethical incompetence.”
He concludes by warning evangelicals who support Trump not to “continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency,” because this will damage “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the gospel.”
These are strong words indeed. But are they true? Consider them in order:
(1) Did Trump violate the Constitution?
Here is Grudem:
Regarding the Constitution, I claim no specialized expertise or legal knowledge. Like Galli himself, on this point I write as an interested citizen, not a legal expert. But I read in the Constitution that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (Art. II, Sec. 1, 3). That implies the president is empowered to investigate allegations of illegal activity. And (I speak here as an ordinary citizen, not an expert) I know of nothing in our Constitution or laws that says there is anything wrong with seeking help from a foreign government in investigating possible corruption.
“Oh, but the situation is different because Biden is a political opponent and President Trump was asking the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden for the sake of personal political benefit,” some critics have objected.
My response is that I see nothing wrong with the president doing things that will bring him personal, political benefit. In fact, I expect that every president in the history of the United States has done things that bring him personal political benefit every day of his term. It is preposterous to claim that it is unconstitutional for the president to act in a way that is politically beneficial. In addition to that, when someone announces that he is running for political office, that does not mean he can no longer be investigated for prior wrongdoing. The opposite should be true.
If I read Grudem correctly, he seems to be suggesting that Donald Trump did indeed act out of self-interest when he called the president of Ukraine. At least he admits it. This makes his argument different from many court evangelicals. Grudem sounds more like Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who told reporters that Trump did engage in a quid pro quo (“we do that all the time”) and we should all just “get over it.” Grudem seems to be suggesting that it was perfectly fine for Trump to investigate a political opponent in this way. While Grudem is right about the self-interest of past presidents, this particular president’s self interest was an attempt to get a foreign country to interfere with an election and undermine the democratic process.
Even Jonathan Turley, the George Washington law professor who testified in opposition to impeachment before the House Judiciary Committee, said that if Trump acted out of political self-interest his call was an impeachable offense. Turley’s primary concern was that the the Democrats in the House did not yet have enough evidence to make a case for impeachment. And of course, the other three law professors who testified, over 500 more law professors, and more than 2000 historians have also argued that what Trump did was an impeachable offense.
I am afraid that Wayne Grudem, a man who I took a course with as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is out of his league here.
(2) Was Trump’s phone call “profoundly immoral”?
But is it wrong to investigate possible wrongdoing by someone’s political opponent? Apparently the Democrats do not think so, because the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has been investigating President Trump for the entire past year. I do not see how it could be “profoundly immoral” to request information about possible corruption on the part of Joe Biden. I do not even see how it could be “minimally immoral,” and certainly not “profoundly immoral.”
Once again, Grudem shows a lack of understanding about how the government works. In the United States we have separation of powers. Congress is a check against the power and potential tyranny of the Executive Branch. It is the duty of Congress to investigate the president. Perhaps Grudem remembers when the House investigated Bill Clinton in 1998. Grudem had a lot to say about presidential character in those days. In the end, the House was doing its duty in 1998 and it is doing its duty now. Will there be a partisan dimension to impeachment? Absolutely. Alexander Hamilton, the author of Federalist 65, said we should expect this. The people voted the Democrats into office in 2018. They control the House and they impeached the president. There is nothing unconstitutional about this.
(3) What about Trump’s association with convicted criminals?
Another reason to remove Trump from office, according to Galli, is that he hired and fired people who later became “convicted criminals.” This is a new argument. Previously, I was under the impression that our country holds a person responsible for his or her own wrongdoing, but not for the wrongdoing of others (unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it). However, now Galli is implying that Trump should be held accountable – and removed from office! – for the wrongdoing of people who worked for him. This is the unjust principle of “guilt by association.” I’m glad that God did not hold Jesus to that same standard (remember Judas, who served as treasurer for the 12 disciples and Jesus; see John 12:6; 13:29). In the Old Testament Scriptures, Ezekiel says this: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).
Back to the Constitution: it says that a president shall be “removed from office” on the basis of impeachment for and conviction of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” (Art. II, Sec. 4). It does not say, “or the crimes of those who worked for him.” Galli is arguing that Trump should be “removed from office” on the basis of grounds that are not in the Constitution, and not even morally just. It seems ironic that, in an editorial urging Trump’s removal because of “ethical incompetence,” Galli condemns Trump on the basis of a standard (guilt by association) that is itself ethically unsound.
The key phrase here is “unless the supervisor knew about the wrongdoing and failed to do anything about it.” And what about Trump’s claim that he hires “all the best people?” Granted, hiring bad people is not an impeachable offense, but it certainly says something about the moral decision-making of the president when such a large number of his associates end-up in jail or are under investigation. The names Cohen, Manafort, Papadopoulus, Pinedo, Stone, Gates, and Flynn come to mind.
Grudem has his head in the sand. He makes Trump sound like some kind of saint who just happens to be surrounded by corrupt people and its not his fault.
(4) Immoral actions before Trump became president
Galli also wants to remove Trump from office because he has admitted to “immoral actions in business and his relationship with women.” At this point Galli must be referring to actions done before Trump was elected president, because he has not admitted to any immoral actions while in office. In addition, I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business, so Galli’s accusations seem overly broad.
Let’s leave the Access Hollywood tape, the porn stars, the sexual harassment, and the mocking of women’s appearances to the side for the moment and stick with “immoral actions in business.” Grudem says, “I am not aware of Trump admitting to any immoral actions in business.” First, Grudem seems to think that Trump would actually admit that he has done something wrong. He assumes we are dealing with an upright and moral person here. Second, did Grudem forget about Trump University or Trump’s fake charity, to name just a few of his immoral business practices?
(5) Do evangelical leaders brush off Trump’s immoral behavior?
Galli claims that evangelicals “brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior.” But I know of no evangelical leader who “brushed off” Trump’s words and behavior, for they were roundly condemned.
I myself wrote on Oct. 9, 2016, in Townhall.com, “I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election. His vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) … His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.”
OK, fine. But where was Grudem when Trump separated families from children at the border, said that there were “fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville, lied or misrepresented the truth over 15,000 times, tried to take healthcare away from millions of Americans, pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, prevented Muslims from entering the country, left Syrian Christians for dead, hired nativist and racist Stephen Miller, refused to release his tax returns, eliminated an ethics court for incoming White House staff, stood by as children bullied their classmates in his name, said Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift,” backed racist Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, defended Confederate monuments, and tried to end the DACA program?
Galli does not claim that Trump has “admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women” during his three years in the White House. Shouldn’t we evaluate Trump primarily on the basis of his time as president? The Christian gospel includes the message that people can repent of past sins, ask God for forgiveness through Jesus Christ, and (often gradually) become better people (see Luke 24:47; Acts 20:21; 26:20).
With the exception of the Access Hollywood tape, Trump has not apologized or “asked for forgiveness” for any of these sins. Compare Trump to Bill Clinton on this matter.
(6) Do Trump’s tweets show that he is immoral?
But what about Trump’s Twitter feed? Galli says it contains “a habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders,” and is “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.” But is this true?
Before people condemn Trump’s tweets by merely reading about them in a hostile press, they should read them for themselves. Anyone can do this at Twitter.com. I just read through every one of Trump’s tweets from the entire past week (December 19-25), to see if Galli is correct in his accusation. Here is a representative sample of those tweets, in Trump’s own words:
December 25: MERRY CHRISTMAS!
2019 HOLIDAY RETAIL SALES WERE UP 3.4% FROM LAST YEAR, THE BIGGEST NUMBER IN U.S. HISTORY. CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA!
December 24: 187 new Federal Judges have been confirmed under the Trump Administration, including two great new United States Supreme Court Justices. We are shattering every record!
December 23: STOCK MARKET CLOSES AT ALL-TIME HIGH! What a great time for the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats to Impeach your favorite President, especially since he has not done anything wrong!
NASDAQ UP 72.2% SINCE OUR GREAT 2016 ELECTION VICTORY! DOW UP 55.8%. The best is yet to come!
Nancy Pelosi, who has already lost the House & Speakership once, & is about to lose it again, is doing everything she can to delay the zero Republican vote Articles of Impeachment. She is trying to take over the Senate, & Cryin’ Chuck is trying to take over the trial. No way!….
…What right does Crazy Nancy have to hold up this Senate trial. None! She has a bad case and would rather not have a negative decision. This Witch Hunt must end NOW with a trial in the Senate, or let her default & lose. No more time should be wasted on this Impeachment Scam!
December 22: Melania and I send our warmest wishes to Jewish people in the United States, Israel, and across the world as you commence the 8-day celebration of Hanukkah.
December 21: Last night I was so proud to have signed the largest Defense Bill ever. The very vital Space Force was created. New planes, ships, missiles, rockets and equipment of every kind, and all made right here in the USA. Additionally, we got Border Wall (being built) funding. Nice!
December 20: Just had a great call with the President of Brazil, @JairBolsonaro . We discussed many subjects including Trade. The relationship between the United States and Brazil has never been Stronger!
December 19: The reason the Democrats don’t want to submit the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate is that they don’t want corrupt politician Adam Shifty Schiff to testify under oath, nor do they want the Whistleblower, the missing second Whistleblower, the informer, the Bidens, to testify!
My question for Mr. Galli is this: how can you say that such tweets are “a near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused”? The expression “near-perfect example” suggests that something like 90% or 95% of his tweets reflect morally evil choices. But, after reading these tweets, it seems to me that Galli has made a false accusation. The most objectionable thing that I see in these tweets is that Trump labels his political opponents with derogatory nicknames (Crazy Nancy Pelosi, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, and Adam Shifty Schiff), but that impoliteness is a comparatively trivial matter that comes nowhere close to being a “near-perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
I see in these tweets a president who is rightfully proud of a healthy economy, a stronger military, and the appointment of 187 federal judges who are committed to judging according to what the law says and not according to their personal preferences. Such accomplishments are morally good benefits for the nation as a whole, and they have been accomplished by Trump in the face of relentless opposition from Democrats. Far from being “morally lost and confused,” Trump seems to me to have a strong sense of justice and fair play, and he is (I think rightfully) upset that the impeachment process in the House was anything but just and fair.
Grudem is making an argument here based on one week (during the Christmas season) of Trump tweets. I would encourage folks to read Trump’s Twitter feed. The fact that Wayne Grudem, a Christian theologian and ethicist, would defend Donald Trump’s twitter feed is preposterous.
Are Trump’s tweets full of lies?
Galli also claims that Trump’s tweets contain a “habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders.” Do Trump’s tweets contain lies? Galli himself gives no examples, but the Washington Post on December 16 carried an article, “President Trump Has Made 15,413 False or Misleading Claims over 1,055 Days.”
What exactly are these alleged lies?
Grudem then goes on to suggest a few areas where he thinks The Washington Post is wrong. He writes:
And so it goes with one supposed “lie” after another. Upon closer inspection, the accusations do not hold up.
Do I think that Trump has ever intentionally told a lie? I don’t know. Perhaps. I admit that he often exaggerates and boasts that something is the “biggest” or “best,” a habit that probably comes from his years in promoting his Manhattan real estate deals. In some cases, I think he has made incorrect claims not because he was intentionally lying but because he was given misleading information (as in his claim that the crowd at his inauguration was the biggest ever), and I think that the White House should correct any such inaccurate statements. But do I believe that he intentionally and habitually tells lies? Absolutely not.
Grudem suggests that Trump rarely lies intentionally. Grudem, a Calvinist who believes in human depravity, has the audacity to say that he does not believe Donald Trump “intentionally and habitually tells lies.” Has Grudem ever watched a Trump rally? This is very disappointing from a guy who wrote a systematic theology textbook that a lot of evangelicals read.
(6) Does Trump have a “grossly immoral character”?
It is a deeply serious matter to accuse someone of having a “grossly immoral character,” for if the accusation is believed, it destroys a person’s reputation for lifetime, and a good reputation is more valuable than untold riches. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Therefore, before we make an accusation like this, it is important that we base it on an abundance of clear and compelling evidence, for false accusation inflicts substantial harm on another person. God commands, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod. 20:16), and the Mosaic law code imposed strict penalties on anyone who made a false accusation (see Deuteronomy 19:18-19; compare Proverbs 6:19).
I think Galli is on pretty solid biblical evidence when he says that Trump has a “grossly immoral character.” Galli has no need to worry about bearing false witness or making false accusations. Even some of the court evangelicals believe Donald Trump is immoral. They just think that God uses immoral people to accomplish His will.
Grudem goes on:
“You are a bad person” strategy of the Left: Although I do not believe that Galli himself is part of the political Left, it is also important to realize the kind of political climate in which Galli’s claim occurs. One Fox News commentator rightly observed that the political Left has realized that it can’t beat conservatives by arguing, “You have bad policies,” so it has shifted to attacks that take the form, “You are a bad person.” And the result is that President Trump has been the target of incessant character assassination by the media for the past three years (as have many other conservatives).
But Jesus told us how to evaluate someone’s character: we should look at the fruit that comes from his life. “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:43-44).
We now have three years of results (or “fruit”) that have come from Donald Trump’s presidency, and, in my judgment, the fruit has been overwhelmingly good.
If we understand the idea of “fruit” in a larger New Testament context, we might turn to Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
For Grudem, Trump’s “fruits” are basically a long list of GOP talking points. His op-ed assumes that there is a one-to-one correlation between these talking points and the teachings of the Bible. There is not.
What about the negative results?
Here is Grudem:
At this point someone will ask, “But what about the negative fruit from Trump’s presidency? Isn’t he responsible for the toxic, highly polarized political atmosphere we now live in?”
Grudem blames most of our highly polarized political atmosphere on the “political Left.” He then tries to quell Trump critics by quoting Romans 13:
Yet the New Testament tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1).
We have seen these appeals to Romans 13 before.
Harm to the Christian gospel?
Galli concludes by warning that evangelical Trump supporters will harm “the reputation of evangelical religion” and “the world’s understanding of the gospel.” My response is that is not correct for Galli to say that character “doesn’t really matter” to evangelical Trump supporters, for we have roundly and universally condemned his past immoral behavior. Character matters. But the moral character that Trump has demonstrated while in the White House, his unswerving commitment to his campaign promises, his courage, and his sound judgment on one policy issue after another, are commendable.
I’m sorry, but I just have a very different understand of morality than my former professor. To suggest that evangelical leaders have “roundly and universally condemned” Trump’s behavior–past or present–does not make sense to me. Grudem lives in a different moral universe than I do.